Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

Moving Lives: short film explores Irish migration

VIDEO: Mairéad McClean’s short film presents the lived experience of Irish migration from multiple vantage points, with an introduction by Dr Johanne Devlin Trew of the University of Ulster.

Thu, Jun 14, 2012, 10:00


Mairéad McClean’s short film Moving Lives presents the lived experience of Irish migration, with an introduction by Dr Johanne Devlin Trew of the University of Ulster.

Mairéad McClean’s short film Moving Lives, a collaboration with the Live and Learn initiative of National Museums Northern Ireland, presents the lived experience of Irish migration from multiple vantage points through space, time and memory.

Representing movements in several directions (immigration, emigration, return migration) and stages (leaving, journeying, arriving), the film weaves together the stories of migrants from the distant past up until recent times narrated in their own voices, through their correspondence, and in the multi-generational memories passed to their descendants.

Filmed on location at the Ulster American Folk Park – an outdoor migration museum in County Tyrone – in the enclosed setting of a dimly-lit nineteenth-century ‘old world’ mass house, the film challenges the illusory fixedness of its backdrop with an exploration of lives moving through space and time, transcending standard chronologies and uncovering universal experience beyond the Irish context.

Still from 'Moving Lives'

The narrative that unfolds reveals that although migration may provide adventure, opportunity or even escape, the costs are somewhat less tangible in the short term and may only become apparent and increasingly pressing with the passage of time, sometimes over several generations.

Memory sustains the migrant; its aide-mémoires described in the film – the treasured locket left as a memento, the china tea-set brought from Ireland to America that has survived intact for over one hundred years – assist in safeguarding the fading ties that still bind.

But memory can be double-edged. The reality of distance, of separation from loved ones, of absence from family celebrations, and ultimately of the sacrifice of memories not made and of choices not taken are some of the lessons that emerge from Moving Lives that the current ‘Generation Emigration’ may well contemplate as they depart this island.

Dr Johanne Devlin Trew is a lecturer at the University of Ulster in Belfast and author of Leaving the North: Migration, Conflict and Society, Northern Ireland, 1921-2011, to be published by Liverpool University Press in 2013.

Mairéad McClean is a Tyrone-born artist and filmmaker who has been living in London for 25 years. For a portfolio of her work, see

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